Interview: 4K UHD Blu-ray primed and ready, here's the nitty gritty you need to know

posted on Monday, 29th June 2015 by Steve May

home cinema  4K 

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Ron Martin is a man relieved. Blu-ray Disc Association board member and VP of Innovation at Panasonic's famed Hollywood Labs, Martin's just cleared the final hurdle in the run up to the launch of 4K UHD Blu-ray, the next iteration of the BD format. The specification has been locked, thorny issues such as HDR (High Dynamic Range) standards sorted, and Hollywood studios are onboard. Talking with him you get the sense that it's a win hard fought for.

Inside CI recently had the chance to catch up Martin (pictured above) for an update on the incoming technology which promises to set a new benchmark for AV quality in the home...

The CI industry has been on tenterhooks to see just what the final specification of 4K UHD Blu-ray will look like. Until now, no one's been quite sure how compatible current distribution systems are going to be with what comes next...

Ron Martin: "When it comes to HDR, 4K Blu-ray will support a subset of the SMPTE 2084 10-bit HDR standard. We have included a few features in the that which dictate mastering processes, that CE companies can reach, anywhere from 700-1000 Nit total peak value."

Where does that leave proprietary standards such as Dolby Vision?

Martin: "Dolby Vision is a distribution mechanism. The images are essentially the same, we just cap them a little bit lower than what Dolby wants to push up. It's a layered approach. They can ride on top of the Blu-ray standard. The Blu-ray standard is actually a 10-bit 10,000 Nit container, but we will self police to a 1000 Nit level."

One of the big issues facing installers of 4K video systems is HDCP 2.2 copy protection and colour space. How big a problem is this going to be with existing systems and currently available hardware?

Martin: "It’s going to be a migration for sure. Most manufacturers are up to date. All 2015 TVs and AV receivers seem to have it...by the end of the year they all will. For consumers that have bought earlier, it’s probably going to switch the player back to a limited video output, some receivers will be upgradable others may well require a new purchase."

How likely is it that first generation 4K UHD BD players will offer twin HDMI outputs, one to link directly to an HDCP 2.2 client screen, the other to deliver audio to non HDCP 2.2 amplification?

Martin: "I’m not sure about that. I don’t know of any specific plans to do that by any of the manufacturers at this point. Mainly because the port that is there will negotiate with any receiving device and respond accordingly with the proper signal."

Not all processors and matrices can handle full 4:4:4 chroma sub-sampling yet. Is this likely to be an issue?

Martin: "We have gone with 4:2:0 sub-sampling. There are two reasons for that. On the content side, it's a de facto distribution format and allows studios to preserve their original assets at 4:4:4.  It also lends itself to more efficient compression. There was absolute consensus between the CE companies and the studios on this issue. The content owner has the right to do what they want with their assets. The visual discernment of 4:2:0 sampling, when the pixels get that small and have that much range, will be really hard to see. 4K UHD TVs are very sophisticated when it comes to filling in that gap, as it were. Filling in the vertical resolution of the visual experience when you have 2160 lines as opposed to 1080 lines, even with the scale of TV that we are getting to, is really hard. The payload difference in terms of compression is really not worth it."

CES 4K BD (1)

A number of panel vendors, including LG and Samsung, have shown prototype 21:9 ratio 5K screens. Does 4K UHD Blu-ray support that particuarl screen format and configuration?

Martin: "There is no support of a 5K 21:9 format support on 4K UHD. There are no formal plans to address that. When it comes to sound, Dolby Atmos and DTS can ride on the base specification. I don’t know how fast Dolby Atmos will be adopted but I applaud them for going there."

Just to be clear, there is no support for 3D 4K either? Is there any specific reason for this?

Martin: "There is no 4K 3D standard for Blu-ray. 3D content will be HD resolution, with or without HDR. It was a cost consideration, but probably not a primary cost consideration. It was more about knowing where are limits where and what we could develop in time. And quite frankly, it also reflects content publisher desire. 3D for mainline distribution as a cinema experience will still be available, but 4K 3D particularly with higher frame rates, is a tough nut to crack. Still, 1080p upconversion technology is so sophisticated right now, by the time you’ve put on glasses, be they shuttering or polarising, you’ve knocked a fair amount of resolution down anyway. It came to the point where we said we don’t think there’s viability here."

Hollywood heavyweighs like directors Peter Jackson and James Cameron have been particularly vocal about high frame rate 3D. Are they likely to be disappointed their work won't appear in that format on 4K BD disc?

Martin: "Actually both of them are much more interested in the frame rate aspect at this point. If there was an HD 60p presentation in 3D I think they’d be content with it. Theatrically of course they’re trying to push the limits in multiple areas. Ang Lee is out producing a 120fps film currently - although nobody is quite sure what we’re going to do with. There’s a creative push and a technology realisability and a commercial factor – they all have to come together ultimately."

So is 4K Blu-ray really ready for its 2015 launch?

Martin: "We’re still on track for a pre Christmas launch for players and HDR TVs, to various levels of certainty. I tell you, the prototype Panasonic HDR TVs I’ve seen are just fabulous. It’s really a step up in the viewing experience. In the next year or two it’ll evolve even further."

Are you at all concerned that Blu-ray is coming late to the 4K party? Netflix is steadily building up a library of content...

Martin: "I still think we have a true advantage over OTT services like Netflix and Amazon, in that it’s a predictable, reliable experience. Even with a wide bandwidth at home, only about 18 percent of their (UHD) content is delivered in 4K! Only the switching is so elegant nobody knows. The OTT experience will take a back seat to Blu-ray as a premium experience. It’s interesting that Netflix, Amazon and Discovery are now requesting native 4K capture. Until now it’s typically upconverted from a 3K camera..."

Steve May

Steve is a veteran of the UK consumer electronics industry, having covered it for
various media outlets for more than 20 years.

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Posted by Darren Shear on 29th June 2015, 4:35 PM
Great article, first time i've seen any real solid information on what the 4k disc format will be!

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